Now more than ever, it’s critical that college students and graduates understand how essential soft skills are for the modern workforce. These non-technical competencies can improve the way you work and interact with people. Soft skills include things like communication, empathy, open-mindedness, and more.
For college grads entering the workforce, soft skills could be the difference between landing the interview and actually getting (or keeping) the job. That’s why we recently covered the top ten soft skills college grads need to learn before they enter the workforce. Now it’s time to unpack two of the most important ones: adaptability and emotional intelligence.
Adaptability: The Ability to Go with the Flow
We all witnessed the transition from traditional, in-person employment to remote work. For some, that transition was fraught with unfamiliar technology, new interruptions, and an overall negative outlook. For others, the transition was smoother. Even when things were uncertain, the most adaptable people rolled with the punches.
As a soft skill, adaptability is the willingness to see where the path leads – and course-correct if needed.
When circumstances change (as they often do), adaptability will help you adjust to new roles, priorities, technology, and situations. If you’re trying to improve your adaptability skills, reflect on the phrase: “Expect the unexpected.” Remember change can be a positive thing, a learning experience – or even both.
Here are three things you can do to improve your adaptability skills:
- Reflect on why you feel resistant to change: Just because someone is adaptable doesn’t mean they automatically love change. It’s common to want things to stay the same. Perhaps you’re afraid that if you have to learn a new system at work, you’ll appear incompetent. Or maybe you’re unsure how much energy you’ll have to attend a meeting or event in person. Once you know the root cause of your resistance, you can figure out the best way to move forward.
- Ask questions and communicate with others: You don’t know what you don’t know. If you ever feel resistant to change, you can counteract uncertainty by getting clear on what’s happening. The sooner you ask questions, the sooner you’ll be able to get some insight into what’s going on and how it will impact you. It’s also a good idea to communicate your thoughts and feelings with somebody you trust – especially if they’ve gone through something similar. Whether they offer advice or solidarity, it’s helpful to have a listening ear.
- Practice optimism: It’s pretty easy to be a pessimist, but it takes intention and persistence to be more optimistic. To start, filter your experiences through a lens of gratitude. Make it a habit to automatically think about what you’re grateful for in any given situation. It’s not about faking positivity. It’s about finding at least one silver lining.
Emotional Intelligence: The Ability to Understand the Nuance of Emotions
Psychology Today refers to emotional intelligence (EQ) as “. . . the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.”
As a soft skill, emotional intelligence is marked by an ability to “read the room” and react accordingly.
Emotions can run high, even at work. It takes a strong EQ to manage those emotions in a professional yet thoughtful way. If you’re trying to improve your emotional intelligence, reflect on this Pema Chödrön quote about how emotions come and go: “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
Here are three things you can do to improve your emotional intelligence:
- Practice self-awareness: When we’re clear about what we’re feeling (and why), we’re more likely to be confident, make sound decisions, and communicate effectively. As you become more self aware, some of your shortcomings may come up. Fortunately, many tools for self-awareness exist that can walk you through the highs and lows. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) uncovers your four-letter personality type. And the Strong Interest Inventory® is designed to help you identify your work style, ideal learning environment, interests, and more.
- Get familiar with nonverbal cues: How many times have you said one thing, but meant another? Chances are, your body language communicated how you really felt. A major indicator of high emotional intelligence is the ability to interpret nonverbal cues (from yourself and others). Perhaps you notice your colleague’s posture always stiffens when a certain person walks into the room. What could that mean? How else is your colleague communicating in that moment? Get curious about what’s unspoken.
- Don’t take things too personally: As you enhance your awareness of the emotions happening around you, you might find yourself dragged down by certain things like sadness or anger. If you become too negatively affected, take a step back. Remember that feelings pass. You’re not here to save anyone. High EQ is less about the act of calming ruffled feathers and more about understanding how and when